Sunday, September 28, 2008

Healing the Purpose of Your Life

Here's another book by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, and Matthew Linn (same authors as Sleeping with Bread). This one is about discovering who God created us to be so that we can live out of that. Knowing our "sealed orders" from God about what we are here to do and be helps us live a life that is meaningful and life-giving as opposed to life-draining. Knowing our purpose also helps in making decisions because we can make choices based on whether or not they are in line with who we really are and what gives us life.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Crash by Jerry Spinelli

Crash Coogan is a seventh grade jock who boasts about his expensive clothes and athletic abilities. He's also a big-time arrogant jerk. Penn Webb is his dorky but affable neighbor. Penn has been nice to Crash since they first met in the 1st grade, but Crash wants nothing to do with Penn, unless it involves playing practical jokes on him. However,Crash changes over the course of the book and the ending is sweet and redemptive.

Even though this book is in the "young adult" genre, it raises important questions for everyone. Is it important to win at everything? Or are the winners really the ones who are surrounded by good friends? What qualities do we really want to have?

I see this book as a tribute to all of those "nice guys" out there (you know who you are!). Crash initially sees Penn as a loser, but Penn actually turns out to be the most grounded, dynamic, supportive, and generous guy around. What else could you want in someone close to you?

P.S. This book is written by the same author as one of my favorites, Stargirl, which has similar themes.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Getting Near to Baby by Audrey Couloumbis

This is the story of how a family deals with the loss of a baby. The mom is depressed and the middle daughter stops speaking. The aunt takes in the two sisters in order to give the mom some time alone to grieve and heal.

The ending of this book is touching and there are a few great lines. Overall though, this is one of the most boring books I've read in a long time. It is bland and has a cast of one-dimensional characters. There's probably better children's books out there that deal with grief...or at least I hope there are.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill

The full title of this book is How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else. The author is an Ivy League educated, ex-advertising executive who found himself in his 50s without a job or family (he was fired from the company he worked at for 25 years, had an affair and a baby with another woman and divorced his wife, but didn't end up with the new lady either). He ends up with a job at Starbucks, working for a 28-year-old African-American woman who teaches him a thing or two about the value of hard work. Mostly, Gill learns about the importance of respect and humility. His life is totally different, but he is happier than he's ever been.

This is a short, pleasant book to read. The behind-the-scenes look at Starbucks is fun. It's neat how Gill tackles his new job with both fear and courage and how thankful he is for the chance just to be working.

I would not put this on your must-read list...and I would recommend checking it out from the library rather than buying it. But if you get a chance to read it, go ahead! It's a new perspective and has some good lessons.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

This is an ambitious novel chronicling the life of fictional First Lady Alice Blackwell. The author does not try to hide the fact that the main character is based on Laura Bush. However, I'm unsure as to how closely Alice Blackwell resembles Laura Bush since I don't know that much about Mrs Bush.

The story follows Alice from her childhood through her years as First Lady in the White House. Alice grows up in a modest family in a small-town. She's a librarian, a Democrat, and is very thoughtful and intelligent. She meets Charlie Blackwell, a Republican who comes from a wealthy and well-known family. Charlie, although he attended prestigious schools and had a privileged upbringing, is a crude and demeaning goof-off who dapples in politics, but mostly lives off a trust fund. Charlie and Alice end up together, for better or for worse. Charlie winds up as president of the United States (not really because he had any political aspirations, but rather because he could so he did) and Alice, looking back at who she was, who she has become, and what she may have stood by and let happen, is trying to make sense of her life and who she is.

This book consumed me for two days. It is quality writing, not fluff or filler. I was a little disappointed at the end though because the first 500 pages were great and then the book got kind of boring, rambly, and unrealistic in the last 50 pages, as if the author was just trying to finish it up. Also, be forewarned: There are some explicit scenes that are really unnecessary.

The Tiger Rising by Kate Dicamillo

After reading Because of Winn-Dixie and loving it, I checked this little book out by the same author. It's about 12-year-old Rob who finds a caged tiger behind the motel where he and his dad are living. Rob also makes a friend in Sistine, a girl who challenges him to face the truth about his mom's death and his sadness.

This book was a BIG disappointment. It wasn't as nearly as charming or as touching as Because of Winn-Dixie.

So, don't read this Because of Winn-Dixie if you haven't yet!

To read my short, but glowing review of Because of Winn-Dixie, click here!

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

This is a tale full of suspense and fantasy. It features eleven-year-old Lyra, an orphan growing up at Oxford, and her dangerous journey north that begins with her witnessing an attempted murder.

The book was a page-turner, but looking back now, it really was just okay. I found it hard to believe that young Lyra was so intelligent in order to figure out everything that she did. In addition, I didn't find any of the characters endearing like I do in Harry Potter. Also, there was a grisly polar bear fight that was pretty gross.

This is the first book of the His Dark Materials trilogy. This one didn't get me that excited, but the story is good enough for me to continue reading the series. I've already checked out the second book, but I'm not feeling any pressure to read it right away and
I'm not totally sure that I'll finish the series. I'll see how it goes.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

Sarah Dessen is one of my favorite authors and this is her latest book. It's about seventeen-year-old Ruby who finds herself abandoned by her mother. Suddenly, Ruby is thrown into a completely different life when she has to move in with her sister (who is ten years older) and her sister's husband. Ruby learns about letting people get close to her and how to offer and receive help. She also learns what "family" really means.

Dessen's books are always a pleasure to read and this one is no exception. I felt like the cast of characters almost bordered on too many, but I can't really imagine who the story could do without.

Some quotes I liked:

"'s all right to have a little bit of regret every once in a while. It's when you feel it all the time and can't do anything about it...that's when you get into trouble."

"...I kept thinking about this, the idea of distance and accomplishment. The further you go, the more you have to be proud of. At the same time, in order to come a long way, you have to be behind to begin with. In the end, though, maybe it's not how you reach a place that matters. Just that you get there at all."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Not a Genuine Black Man: My Life as an Outsider by Brian Copeland

This is the memoir of Brian Copeland, a local broadcast personality. He writes about his experience growing up in San Leandro during the 1970s. His family was one of the few African-American families living there at the time.

Copeland recounts the discrimination directed towards him and his family in a way that conveys the seriousness and unfairness of it all. However, he tells the stories with humor which makes the book accessible and safe, I would think, for people of all different ethnic backgrounds to read. It made me more aware rather than angry.

This is the 2009 selection of the Silicon Valley Reads program. I am excited that people all over the county will read this book. I think it's an important book. Racism is still alive in many different forms and this book does a great job of opening up a discussion around a sensitive topic.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

This is the story of ten-year-old Opal and her big, scrappy dog named Winn-Dixie. A lot of things happen to Opal because of Winn-Dixie. Opal makes a handful of unlikely friends and also comes to terms with some of the losses she has experienced in her own life.

I loved this book! It is sweet, charming, and touching. I read it in a couple of hours and it has been the best thing about my day so far.

Ask a Librarian!

I went to the library this morning and found a book that I've been wanting to read called Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. I knew it was about a dog because there's a picture of one on the cover. However, I was wondering if the dog dies at the end because right now, I am in no mood to read a sad pet book like Old Yeller or Where the Red Fern Grows.

As I was browsing the other books (I was in the children's section), a librarian came up to ask if I needed help finding anything. This is how our conversation went:

Me: Have you read this book? [I hold up Because of Winn-Dixie.]

Librarian: Yes.

Me: Is Winn-Dixie the dog?

Librarian: Yes.

Me: Does the dog die at the end? Because I don't want to read it if the dog dies.

Librarian: No, I don't remember the dog dying, but let me check. [She takes the book and reads the last few pages.] No, it's okay.

Me: Okay, I'll read it then.

I continue browsing and I hear the librarian go back to the desk and tell another librarian our conversation. And I hear the other librarian say, "Yeah, we don't like books where the dogs die at the end."

Anyway, I share this conversation because 1) it's kinda funny and 2) librarians are a wealth of information and I encourage you to ask them questions!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Shack by William P. Young

I'm not a fan of Christian fiction. Maybe with the exception of Francine Rivers' Mark of the Lion trilogy. Other than those three books, I've stayed away from Christian fiction.

This is Christian fiction. My sister lent me this book, saying that it is all the rage in Christian circles these days. It's the story of Mackenzie Allen Phillips' experience of being invited back to the scene of his six-year-old daughter's murder and how God meets him there.

The feeling I was left with after reading this book was: Suspicion. I read it quickly and there were some truths in it. However, the writing was not that great and the theology seemed a bit questionable. Also, is this a true story? I couldn't figure that out either. Hum. The jury is still out on this one.

Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life

This book by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, and Matthew Linn is about the spiritual practice of the daily examen. The title of the book, Sleeping with Bread, comes from a story about the thousands of children who were orphaned during World War II that ended up living in refugee camps. These children had trouble sleeping because they were so scared of waking up and not having enough to eat the next day or not having a place to live. Their sleeping troubles were solved when someone began giving each child a piece of bread to hold while they slept. The bread, a reminder that they would be taken care of and that they would have food the next day, gave the children the reassurance and peace they needed in order to fall asleep.

In a similiar way, the daily examen allows us to hold onto what gives us life. Through the daily examen, we identify the moments in the day that gave us the most life and the moments that drained us. The authors write that "the will of God is that we give and receive more love and life." Thus, noting patterns of life-giving and life-draining activities is one way that God can speak to us about who we are and what He might want for us.

Just reading this book was life-giving and inspiring. The daily examen is a practice that I can easily add to my life and already, just over the last few days of reading the book and asking myself the daily examen questions, I have found that it really does give me data about what is encouraging in my life and what isn't. Just being aware of these things is empowering. I can see how, after patterns emerge about what is life-giving/draining in my life, this practice will be helpful in making decisions or changing things so that life will be more abundant and joyful.